The worst number of the year: 14,528
By Mike Salk
This is not necessarily a numbers driven blog, but there is one one number that bugs me today.
Yes, that was the attendance at Safeco Field on Monday night, April 19th. It is also the record low for attendance at this ballpark. And I don’t understand why tonight was the night it was set.
There are usually a few reasons why attendance might crumble. Bad ballparks, bad weather, bad franchises/bad teams, bad losing streaks, bad baseball, bad fans and bad economy seem like the most common to me. But I’m not sure any of them truly apply here. So let’s take a quick look at each one.
A. Bad Ballpark. Um, actually? No. Safeco is a virtual palace. Next question.
B. Bad Weather. Again, this one doesn’t cut it. Safeco has the roof so rain never interferes and although it can get cold out there, Monday night’s gametime temp was 65 degrees with a slight 3 MPH breeze. It’s almost perfect baseball weather. Non-factor.
C. Bad Franchise/Bad Team. Again, I’m not sure this team qualifies. This isn’t the Pirates, Marlins or Royals. The Mariners organization has spent money consistently to compete and there is a nice baseball history here. Ownership seems to treat fans with respect and they seem to legitimately want to win.
The M’s also had an incredibly productive off-season and were pre-season contenders for the AL West crown. No one is handing them the pennant, but no one is assuming they are guaranteed basement dweller either. This team won 85 games last year and seemed to be getting better in year two of the Zduriencik era. They are not a bad team. In fact, there is a very god chance that they are a good team. One worth seeing in person.
D. Bad losing streak. I could understand people maybe showing an unwillingness to rush to the ballpark after the first road trip which saw the M’s go 2-5. But since then, they’ve won four of their last five games. They came into the game having won their last two series and they started the night just 2.5 games out of first place.
E. Bad baseball. It was suggested by some Twitter followers that â€œno one wants to see the Orioles,â€ and another said that no one was interested in Doug Fister and one other thought that the M’s lacked a â€œmust see in personâ€ type of player. I’ll agree that the O’s are lame and that Fister doesn’t have the name recognition (or excitement factor) of a Felix Hernandez. On the other hand, evidence shows that attendance doesn’t rise significantly when Felix pitches so why should it fall significantly for Fister? It would seem as if people don’t check the pitching probables before they get tickets. And if they don’t check the probables to see if there is an exciting pitcher on the mound, why would they check the O’s or M’s roster for exciting players either?
Also, the M’s have one of the most exciting players in the game in Ichiro, a budding star in Franklin Gutierrez, one of the fastest players in Chone Figgins and one of the “webgem” kings in Jack Wilson. No, they don’t have a 40 home run threat, but of that’s what we wanted here, Safeco was probably the wrong park to build! Oh yeah, and the M’s still have the greatest player in the history of the franchise in Ken Griffey Junior.
F. Bad fans. I don’t think this is an option. At least I hope not. But what may be true was what was suggested by another Twitter follower: â€œBecause it is a great spring weekday evening. People would rather go to the park then to the ballpark.â€ That one may be true. It doesn’t make anyone a bad fan, but it does mean what we already know to be the case: there is a lot of fun stuff going on here in Seattle!
On the other hand, there was a lot of fun stuff to do in Seattle in 2007 when the team averaged nearly 33,000 people per game. Now to be fair, there were three games played on Monday or Tuesday night at Safeco that year before June 1st and the average attendance for those games was about 10,000 below the season average. So there may be some truth to the early season-early week thing.
But truly, people just need to think that the ballpark would be a fun thing to do on a Monday night. It sure was on this occasion when Doug Fister took a no-hitter into the seventh and the bats exploded for seven runs in the third. Just saying…
G. Bad Economy. Well, this one is tough to argue against and clearly we are seeing some tough attendance figures around baseball (where Baltimore and Toronto have already seen record lows this season). And I would never presume to tell someone trying to make ends meet that baseball is where they should spend their money.
But the Mariners have made it pretty affordable to get to a game. Last week, they held a promotion that offered a ticket, a hot dog and a Pepsi for as little as $14. They were rewarded with what was then the second lowest attendance figure in the park’s history. I’ve heard complaints about parking but I’ve also heard that many lots have dropped rates to as little as $5 and with fewer fans, there is also more street parking available. So while I understand not everyone can afford to attend ballgames as often as they did a few years ago, the prices have come down considerably. Bleacher seats cost between $7 and $10 (or less than the price of a movie at many theaters). Compare that to some other cities where you can’t get into the park for much less than $30 or $50.
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I think what it comes down to is choice. Fans have a choice. They can go to games or they can do something else. They can choose to watch at home and they can choose to support their club in various ways. Maybe they like to blog themselves, or Tweet or buy team gear or whatever. But there is still no real substitute for going to the game, taking your kids or bringing a date. This is still the best sport in the world and this may be the best team of any sort in Seattle right now. I hope people realize it in a hurry!